Saturday, April 28, 2012

Doha Airport and the never-ending journey

This blog should read:“Why I Almost Missed my Plane in Doha.”  Flying from Manila to Buenos Aires is a butt numbing journey of 20,611 kilometers.  From the time I left the airport in Manila (12:01am of April 16th) to the time, I reached my hotel in Buenos Aires at yes still April 16th, 10pm (Argentina time). It was a total of 33 hours of travel.  Manila to Doha is 8 hours and 35 minute flight, while the onward flight to Buenos Aires takes 18 hours and 45 minutes. 

My first sighting of the Doha Aiport on the longest April 16th of my life

I had never been to Qatar before. Its airport was an oasis to me to stretch my legs and get out of the airplane cabin. The State of Qatar has in excess of 900 trillion standard cubic feet of gas reserves and over 15 billion barrels of oil reserves.  Its 1.7 Million population has the highest per capita income in the world.  Astounding! Most of the passengers use Doha to connect to other flights, with only a handful heading to the arrivals terminal. En route to Buenos Aires, I managed to check email with the free internet, have a cup of cappuccino (yes they accept US dollars) and pay the clean toilets a visit.

Filipinos abound, including that Qatar Airways ground crew

More Filipinas working in Doha's Airport

Eight days, later I once again find myself at Doha Airport after my 18 hour Buenos Aires- Doha flight. I now know the drill. I patiently go through the long snaking queue for bags to be x-rayed. I reward myself with a cappuccino. I freshen up at the toilet. I scout for the best free wifi connection.

In the toilet, I hear a lady singing sad love songs.  It was coming from one of the toilet booths. In my head I thought, she has to be a Filipina. There she was a young Filipina lady in a bright aqua cleaner’s uniform. “Pilipina ka? (Are you Filipina?),” I ask. She smiles. Her name is Mina, she was once a department store clerk for SM, the biggest department store chain in the Philippines. Born in Bicol, we talk about the boiled Pili nut dipped in fish sauce and eaten with rice.  The memories of her hometown flow. She insists I should visit the beaches in Bicol.  I bid her goodbye and get my coffee at Costa, where a Filipina mans the cash register.  I keep refreshing my browser, unable to get the free wifi to work on my phone and laptop. The other café patrons had the same problem. With the airport abuzz with passengers, it did not feel like midnight at all. Near the café, men cheered loudly as they watched an ongoing soccer game on TV. My only mission was to stay awake and entertained until boarding time. My ticket read:1:40am. 

My crafts teacher, Ju from South Korea

I saw a lady meticulously tearing pieces of paper. Then before my very eyes, she was producing paper cranes non-stop. She looked peaceful, in almost a meditative state. With nothing better to do, I walk up to her and ask if she could teach me to make them.  She happily honored my request. So there I was getting origami lessons in the airport. It turned out the pieces of paper she used were boarding passes she had collected in the past few months traveling around Europe. In my hands, I held her Oslo to Paris boarding pass. Her name is Ju, a south Korean lady who spent a year studying in London. After making one, she throws the rest of her boarding passes and bids me goodbye to head to the gate. In search of internet access, I ask my toilet buddy Mina. She points me to the pink internet counter. There I find two Filipino men working: the internet provider staff and a security guard. They tell me to stand there and even charge my phone. So instantly, wifi works.  (Hot tip: next time in Doha airport: Stand near the pink internet provider stand close the escalator you ride up after the x-ray).  I get lost in my emails. Then I ask, where is gate 13. I get to the door realizing the time printed on my boarding pass is the last call for my flight.  More Filipino ground staff for Qatar airways are manning this Gate, dressed in the maroon suits. They promise me the plane won’t leave me, but I have to wait for three other stragglers.  The bus had already brought most of the passengers to the plane. I stood there alone, as they tried to locate the three other passengers.  Ten minutes passed. Then finally, another Filipino passenger emerged with copious amounts of chocolate in a Duty Free bag. He got lost and couldn’t find the gate. But he later reveals that he was shopping. In Qatar’s duty free, you can use your miles to shop. He tells me about life in Algiers.  He works for an oil company, located far away from the city. Then another Filipino arrived. He worked in Oman. Somehow his baggage won’t make it with him, set to arrive in Manila the next day. The fourth passenger was nowhere to be found.  With only five minutes left to the scheduled departure time, the bus finally leaves to deliver the three of us to the plane. “Not my fault!,” I tell the smiling Filipina stewardess as I enter. All eyes were on us. I settle into my seat, my little spot in the plane for the next 9 hours with my memories of Doha Airport. It is an oasis of warm Filipinos, coffee, wifi, and even free craft classes. While I had my eyes on arriving to my destination, I learned an important lesson, to enjoy the journey along the way!

Ju made these cranes from old boarding passes, during her five-hour layover at Doha Airport

My first attempt at making a paper crane... time to soar!

(Follow me on twitter and on Facebook/TheMaidasTouch to get real time updates as I travel). 

Copyright2012.MaidaPineda. All photos and text belong to Maida Pineda and may not be used without the author's consent.  Photos all shot on my iphone.

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